As editors, we here at AOPA have a wonderful job, getting to tell the great stories of our members. As the newest member of the team, I had the chance to interview some amazing people, so below are my six favorite stories from 2013, in order.
1. I’ve been in love with aviation since I was six. And growing up as the daughter of a non-flying Air Force officer, I had access to aviation that many African-Americans of my generation didn’t have. Even before coming to AOPA, I worked to make aviation more diverse, which is why my Oct. 1 story on Delaware State University, a historically black college and university based in Dover, is a special favorite. The university, which traces its aviation training roots back to the Tuskegee Airman in World War II, has officially been training aviation professionals in its flight program since 1987. It is also the only HBCU aviation program that owns and operates its own aircraft fleet. Only about two percent of professional pilots in the United States are African-American, said Capt. Stephen Speed, the school’s aviation program director.
2. AOPA member Will Davis discussed how he was able to continue his flight lessons after a video of him clipping an SUV as he was landing during his first cross country solo went viral worldwide. Despite that, he got his certificate on Feb. 2, as I wrote back on Feb. 27. I heard from him recently, and he said that he tries to fly at least once a month, with plans to fly more when he gets the time. He also thanked everyone for their encouragement and support during that difficult time and after.
3. Talk about inspiration – a father inspired his daughter to go through a second harrowing liver transplant by promising to buy her the airplane of her dreams after she made it through the surgery and recovery. Thirty-year-old Julie DeStefano comes from a family of pilots, including herself, her brother and her father, Dennis, who both own aircraft, as I reported in my March 27 story. Dennis recently reported that Julie send him and her mother on several reconnaissance missions to Monte Vista and Alamosa, Colo., and Taos, N.M., to look at potential tail draggers, to no avail. “Then in May she located her dream plane in Knox County, Ohio. On June 14 I flew her there to take delivery of N7679E, a really clean 1958 Champion Model 7FC,” he said.
4. On Aug. 12, I wrote about 20-year-old Jennifer Guetterman, who won a free trip to France and participated as the only American among 75 racers in the Tour Aérien Des Jeunes Pilotes, which ran July 15-28. The event was created to motivate the next generation of pilots and promote general aviation to the public, and Guetterman’s trip was funded by AOPA, the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations, and the Fédération Française Aéronautique. Since the tour, she said, she has continued to teach Ground School at AFI Flight Training Center at Fullerton Airport. “I am one semester away from my Associate of Science, Commercial Pilot degree at Cypress College and my Instrument Rating check ride should be in January,” she said. “I have kept in touch with my French pilot friends and plan on returning to France to visit during the next tour.”
5. Sixteen years to the day after getting his student pilot license, Glen Wenzel, recipient of the Erral Lea Plymate Memorial flight training scholarship in 2012, passed his checkride and got his private pilot certificate on July 31. My story was published on Aug. 8. He is a career firefighter in Winston-Salem, N.C. His father was a pilot, and he has been around aviation his whole life, taking his first flight at age four. An AOPA member since 2010, Wenzel said that learning to fly has been a lifelong goal. After his father died in a helicopter accident, Wenzel inherited his Cessna 150. “That made it easier to do my training, despite the unfortunate circumstances,” he said. “Inheriting his plane made it even more important to finish my flight training.” Since then, he said he’s been trying to do as much flying as he can. “I’m going to try to get my instrument license next year some time. I’ve mostly been flying out to the beach and up to Jersey to see family,” said Wenzel. “Hopefully next year will bring an instrument and maybe a commercial ticket.”
6. Seven employees at Woodinville, Wash.-based Dynon Avionics who formed the Swamp Creek Flying Club, including CEO Robert Hamilton, built a Glasair Sportsman under its Two Weeks To Taxi program for their club aircraft. I covered the story on April 1. Kirk Kleinholz, a CFII sales manager for Dynon and a club member, says the original members are still in the club, and that the aircraft has been performing well. Two members flew it to AirVenture this year and parked it with other GlassAirs. “We also use it to visit Dynon’s business partners, and it was on display at the Golden West Fly-In,” he said. “It’s truly been a thrill to have our own aircraft.”